Honest Dialogue with the Church
One of the most serious misunderstandings about any call to religious vocations is that it is merely one's personal decision. While one may have an inner inclination toward a vocation, discernment cannot happen on one's own. Rather, discernment requires potential candidates to be in prayerful dialogue with God and with the Church. This dialogue is especially important because today "there is ...a certain tendency to view the bond between human beings and God in an individualistic and self-centered way, as if God's call reached the individual by a direct route, without in any way passing through the community?"(Pastores dabo vobis, no. 37). In his discernment, a man does not begin by applying to the seminary. He would first work with a vocation director to help him seek personal clarity through a number of conversations, reflections and experiences offered to him. The director and the discerner may embark on this path for several months or even years. As the man addresses significant questions and concerns for himself, the vocation director assists him by equipping him with healthy tools for discernment. The director would also serve him by identifying traits and qualities that suggest the possibility of priesthood or may raise significant concerns that suggest otherwise. The relationship between the man and the director is built on trust and openness to God's divine will.
What is Discernment?
When making a decision about a vocation, you enter a process of discernment. Discernment is a process by which you discover the calling God has in your life. It helps us distinguish between the main types of lifestyles: single life, married life, religious life, and ordained life.
Discernment is best completed when several factors are involved: prayer to God, honest questioning about one's life, and sincere conversation with respected friends in our life about our own gifts and talents.
How is Discernment Accomplished?
Discernment is primarily done through three acts: critical thinking, reflection, and prayer. Some may say that a material, visible, distinct sign from God is needed to give you direction. Although these signs do happen to some people, they are not the benchmark for discovering God’s will nor are they a definitive answer in anyone’s life. One of the very best ways to discern is to spend some time specifically set aside for that and that alone.
Vocation Awareness Programs are given throughout the year to help one discover God’s calling. This would be a perfect opportunity for anyone to spend some time with a community actively pursuing God’s call in their life.
Four Important Ways to Listen:
1. Listening to God's Purpose
God has a mission for each of us in life. The key of our lives is to make that mission visible to yourself so that it can be shared with the world. One of the very best ways to do this is to sit in quiet time with the Lord. Simply trying to listen to God's will in your life is a fabulous way to begin to understand the driving will in your life.
2. Listening to Your Heart
Because there is no one in the universe like you, you are a great resource in asking some very honest questions about your life:
What do I want most in life?
What are my greatest fears?
What are my deepest hopes?
What makes me most alive?
Can I name my feelings about God, myself, and the world?
When I imagine myself in a religious life or priesthood, what feelings arise in my heart?
When I imagine myself married or single, what feelings arise?
What gifts would I bring to religious life, married life, single life?
Can I see myself studying theology and enjoying it?
When I picture myself in five years from now in each life vocation, what images arise?
3. Listening to Wisdom and Experience
Asking for all the available help in your life is one of the best ways in finding God's will in your life. For a religious vocation several suggestions are given:
Read books or articles from founders and foundresses of religious orders, and learn what their followers do in today's world.
Visit various house of religious or priests. What are the people like? How are they using their gifts and talents to serve God?
Talk to people in religious life or priesthood about what you hope to be or do, about study, community, the mission of the group.
If possible, arrange to talk about your discernment and what happens in prayer as you explore various possibilities.
4. Listen to the Decision Being Made in You
As you are being moved toward a decision, having listened to God's purpose, your heart, the data available (including feedback from people consulted), live with your likely decision for awhile and ponder the following:
Does this decision bring you peace?
Is this choice in harmony with my gifts and personality?
Does this decision free me?
Do I get a sense of excitement, challenge, and possibility for growth as I consider this decision?
Is my sense of God's response one that indicates God's delight and pleasure in my choice?
If you find peace and contentment with a religious vocation, it is now time to take the next step and contact the Vocation Office for the Diocese of Cleveland. Willing people are there to help you discover God's call in your life.